Blog Interview: Liam Narrie, guitarist, producer, mix engineer

Photo credit: Nina Shaw instagram


Liam, thanks for agreeing to talk to us!

A pleasure, my friend.

How are you?

I’m great thank you, currently busier than I’ve ever been in my life, but loving every second. Hope you’re well too, Del.

What’s it like studying at an iconic recording studio complex like Abbey Road?

It’s incredible studying at the Abbey Road Institute. I’ll be training sound engineering and music production there for a year and I’m just about to start my fourth week… but already I have this feeling like I’m running out of time. It was built in ’31, the first ever purpose-built recording studio, and it seems as if everyone who has walked through those doors since has had some impact on modern history and culture through their music. Not only the artists but the technicians, the engineers and producers who work/worked there too. It paved the way for all future recording studios and played such a massive part in forming the music industry as we know it today. Abbey Road has such history, and its quite a story. The guys I learn from are each at the top of their games and the rest of the class is a real bunch of talent, there are twenty of us. Imagine turning up to school every day and you only have to learn about the one subject you’re passionate about, from the best teachers with the best facilities at the best school in the world. There’s something in the air there, there’s a magical vibe and its a privilege to be a part of it. We had Brad Sundberg in chatting to us yesterday for a couple of hours. He was Michael Jackson‘s technical director for eighteen years, through the Bad, Dangerous, HiStory period. He described it as the “coolest school in the world”. Couldn’t agree more.

Have you done the photo on the crossing yet?

I cross it every day at least four times so, technically, yes. As in, photobombing the tourists.

What’s in your home and live set ups?

At home I have a super simple setup for recording, mixing and producing. I’m using Tannoy Reveal 502s monitors, Komplete Audio 6 sound card, into my MacBook Pro 15″ with a whole bunch of plugins. I mainly use Logic Pro and ProTools. Its far from ideal having a “bedroom studio” in terms of size, but with a bit of knowledge, treating the acoustics in your room properly can really work wonders. I use floating stands to decouple the speakers from my desk to tackle surface resonance too. These tweaks help home-made mixes translate properly across different speakers in different rooms. Its reassuring taking something I’ve worked on down to the production rooms at the (Abbey Road) Institute if it all sounds like I intended. On the other hand, I find using properly treated rooms and insanely accurate monitors can be like putting on a pair of glasses after realising you haven’t been able to see properly before.

Live, as a guitarist, I have a couple of Fender Stratocasters, a couple of Gibsons and a beautiful Martin 000 series acoustic. One of the Gibson’s, a lovely cherry red Les Paul Jr, once belonged to my dad’s friend Ian, an amazing guitar player. He used it as a slide guitar as the action was too high before he gifted it to me. So I took it down to Denmark Street, had the action lowered and the original P90 pickups replaced and they realised the body and neck were from two different eras, the body could be from the early 60s but they couldn’t tell for sure. I’ll need to get some more info about it next time I’m back in Edinburgh. Its a dream to play. I own a Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue amp and run a whole load of effects, mostly for different overdriven tones. Favourite pedals would be the JHS Double Barrel overdrive and I have reverb for days with the Strymon Flint.

What album changed your life?

I remember my dad showing me Dark Side of the Moon for the first time when I was around 13, which was just after I had really fallen in love with the sound of the electric guitar. I had just started to learn to play too. Very timely. Its like he’d been planning it all along. We were in the kitchen, leaning on the counter. I had my head right up to the stereo, my ears between the speakers, he hit play and left me to it. That was that. I borrowed his headphones, put it in my Walkman and listened to it in my room all through the night. It wasn’t just the sound of the guitars – it was the first time I’d been made aware of music production. From the steady heart beating to the steps walking through my head from left to right, the random sound of conversations in the background, the synths, the delays, the reverbs, the wailing guitars, the chilling choral arrangements. I still listen to that from start to finish each time as if it was the first.

What one song made you want to pick up the guitar and play?

Well, there are photos of me as a toddler holding a ladle or sieve like a guitar so I don’t think there would have been one song in particular. It probably all came from my parents’ great taste in music. It was inevitable. I grew up listening to a lot of guitar based blues rock like Free, early Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Ray, Led Zep plus all the 90s pop music we had on the radio every day. My Mum is a huge Bowie fan. Once shook his hand and didn’t wash her hand for two weeks. True story. If I had to choose one song though it would be Beat It. I will never get my head around Van Halen‘s guitar solo. Apparently it set one of the monitor speakers in the control room on fire as it got recorded. Also true story.

What piece of technology do you rely on the most in your set up?

If its studio work I rely heavily on my Mac. No recording to tape here. I’m trying more these days to rely less on plugins and technical stuff. Just recording the performance well with the right sounds saves you a hell of a lot of time ‘fixing it later’ in the box. Less is more. As a guitarist in live situations I’m quite old school too, I try not to go too over the top with effects and technology unless its fundemental to the core of the song. Nile Rogers made his whole career by pluging a Strat straight into a clean amp and funking the hell out of it. Its all in the way the instrument is played. I don’t think instrumentalists should need to rely on anything but themselves and their mastery of that instrument, whatever level that may be, as long as the message is made and the emotion conveyed.

What’s been your favourite musical experience so far?

Until the end of 2017, Jakil had been my main project, with the rest of the guys in the band. So that has to be my favourite experience as a whole, so far. We started as teenagers and it lasted fourteen years, toured the UK a bunch of times, lived together, made a whole lot of music, so we became brothers through it all. Between 2005 and 2010 we would sell out some pretty fair sized venues in Scotland and then when we moved to London we managed to build it up and beyond that level. Its hard to pick just one moment though. I’ve done a few session shows now, one highlight would be Ronnie Scotts. Also its worth mentioning they run a jam night upstairs in the lounge bar every Tuesday night. You gotta check these nights out. Pick a track, pick your instrument or sing and get up and jam with the house band. Its a great reminder of the quality of musicianship in this fine city. Last time I was there I ended up on stage with one of the leads from the West End’s Thriller blasting Whitney Houston at 3.30am. Fun stuff.

What music are you working on at the moment?

In terms of mixing, I’m working with a few singer songwriters and bands, all of very different styles. Production wise, I’ve got a proper commercial sounding pop artist at the moment, plus a few other things in the pipeline. I’m also writing my own music and plan on taking a few different routes down different styles under different titles. Its something I’ve been planning all year. I’ll be tracking and mixing it all next year at the Institute. Watch this space.

Are there any artists that you’ve met in London that have inspired you?

Far to many to mention but one stand out is a guy from New York called Mac Ayres. I went down to his London show at the beginning of the year with some friends and stayed for a few drinks with him and his band after. Take a listen to his 2017 album Drive Slow. The guy was twenty years old. That alone is pretty inspirational.

What song to you has the perfect mix from an engineer’s perspective?

I can’t give a straight-up answer here Del, its genre and era dependent – and I listen to a whole load of genres and eras, as you know. There are artists that are crossing these boundaries though, for example The Midnight. Stick on their latest album, it sounds like its been lifted straight out of the mid 80s but sounds fresh and new. That’s clever.

If you could be the mix engineer for any artist or band who would it be?

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall during the Bon Iver sessions. I can’t begin to imagine how those last two albums sound the way they do.

What’s the plan for the next 18 months?

Listen, write, play, record, produce and mix as much music as my schedule will allow for. The more we do, the better we get. I will never stop getting better and I look forward to being there in 18 months looking back on all I achieved in that time.


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